Isui-en garden is an ancient, beautifully preserved garden in the center of Nara city in Nara Prefecture, Kyoto, which is the old capital of Japan.
The Garden Founded on Water
“Isui-en” (also spelled as “Isuien”) means “the garden founded on water.” The name was derived from the fact that the adjacent Yoshikigawa River fill its ponds. The ponds make this garden to be a gorgeous sight.
Finding Isuien Garden
The garden is not that difficult to find, as it is just a short walk away from the main road and from Nara Park itself. It is also a 15-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. It is near the Yoshikien Garden and the Kaidan-in Temple. It is also just a ten-minute walk from Todaiji Temple (famous for its Nandaimon Gate) and Kofukuji Temple.
The Layout of Isuien Garden
The Isui-en Garden has all the characteristics of a typical Japanese garden, with its ponds and small streams, picturesque bridges, pruned maple trees, stepping stones, lanterns, waterfalls, and teahouse. Teahouses are found in the front and rear of the garden. It has an interesting feature which is a pond in the shape of the Japanese character for water (“Mizu”) 水.
In the center of the garden is a pond with two islands, featuring the statues of a crane and a tortoise, which are animals that represent longevity in the Japanese culture. Stepping stones, used formerly for dyeing and to grind pigments, can be found everywhere.
It is an expertly well-cared garden where you can stroll and relax amidst the greenery and admire the view over the mountain called “Mount Wakakusayama.” Walk around its meandering paths, and you will find quite the variety of plants growing around the garden.
Isuien garden glows with all the beautiful colors of the leaves on the trees during all four-season changes. Its dynamic topography of almost 145,000 square feet will need at least a few hours of your time to see all of its facets.
A Guide to Isuien Garden
A volunteer or a friendly guide may meet you at the gate to help you tour the area for free and make your experience a more informative one. The guides speak very good English and several other languages.
You will be shown the various methods used by the people who built the garden to make it look bigger than it is. How the garden was set up and established, following the natural landscape of the land.
The views of Mount Wakakusa and the Nandaimon (Great South Gate of Todai-ji Temple) in the distance appear as part of the dynamic scenery of the garden and this Japanese landscape method wherein the surrounding views become part of the garden is called “shakkei.”
A Promenade Garden
Another very interesting fact about this garden is that it is called a promenade garden (Kaiyu-shiki-teien). This Japanese styled promenade garden features a path that goes in a clockwise direction around a pond. As you stroll around this pond, you will see a series of scenes of all the beautiful blooming flowers and trees, each planted in key points around the path. This garden is a designated “Special Places of Scenic Beauty.” It is the only walking style garden in Nara.
Neiruku Art Museum
The main entrance of the garden will take you past the Neiruku Art Museum. The museum, which you will see on your left-hand side, is characterized by a curving roof. Inside the museum, you will see exhibits of Chinese, Japanese and Korean antique ceramics, bronze ware, pottery, and porcelain. It also has artifacts, seals, and ancient mirrors. Admission to the garden includes the free tour of the museum.
Don’t rush to finish your tour; do drop by in a teahouse or a sukiya-zukuri building (a place where tea ceremonies are done) and have a cup of matcha tea with a Japanese sweet on tatami mats while contemplating the peaceful, harmonious view outside. The lake and streams have water so clear that you can see the reflection of the trees, clouds, and sky on them.
The History of Isui-en Garden in Nara, Japan
The garden was originally made from two separate gardens, each having a pagoda. The site where the western garden is now used to be a part of Manishu-in, which is a part of the large Kofuku-ji Temple.
Kiyosumi Michikiyo, a tanner who was well-off, bought the land in 1670 during the Edo era. Between 1673 -1681, he updated the garden to his taste, and built two thatched-roofed houses, the Sanshutei and the Tei-shu-ken, to serve as their family home. The high priest, Mokuan, of Manpuku-ji Temple of the school Zen Oubaku in Uji, was the one who gave the name Sanshutei meaning “house of the three wonders.”
The larger eastern garden was designed and built in 1899 during the Meiji era, by a rich Nara businessman called Seki Tojiro. With the help of Horitoku, a garden architect from the school of Urasenke, Tojiro redesigned and recreated the garden.
The two gardens were finally purchased in 1939 by Jyunsaku Nakamura, a merchant of Nara, ad merged to form a single garden. At that time, the Neiraku Museum existed, and Nakamura wanted the garden to be an added facet of the museum.
Best Time to Visit Isui-en Garden?
Any time is a good time to visit Isui-en Garden. The Garden’s beautiful and stunning foliage will not fail to mesmerize you. However, some may say that the very best time to visit Nara and its gardens is during cherry blossom season, in early April. Late springtime will have the peonies, azaleas, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas in full bloom.
Isui-en Garden during Summer
Late summer from June to August and tend to be hot and humid. The rainy season merges with the summer and it rains from mid-June to late July. Though it does not rain every day, you may still be able to make a summer visit to the garden bringing with you the appropriate protection against the heat.
Isui-en Garden during Autumn
In Japan, the green leaves on the trees begin to slowly change colors in early November, brought on by the Koyo front. The best time to enjoy the autumn foliage in Nara is between late November and early December. This garden during this golden time of the year is a photographer’s paradise. Many of those who have been to this park marvel at the vibrant colors that come out only during fall, rivaling the beauty that comes with Spring.
Some even start to report on the changing colors, and document it compared to other gardens in other regions – it’s a nationwide hobby.
The Opening Hours of Isui-en Garden
Isui-en Garden is closed on Tuesdays but is open on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 9:30 AM until 4:30 PM. Its address is 74 Suimoncho, Nara-shi, Nara, Japan, and its telephone number is 0742250781.
What is The Admission Fee of Isui-en Garden?
Isui-en garden is privately owned. The admission fee for Adults is 900 JPY, and for children, it is 300 JPY.
Other Reviews on Isuien Garden
Marked as 7 out of the 207 things to do in Nara, this garden has been rated 4.5 out of 5 by 354 reviewers on TripAdvisor. It has also been marked as having TripAdvisor’s certificate of excellence. The overwhelmingly positive reviews note how the garden does not get as crowded as others, and how the fee offers a guided tour of the garden that is free of charge.
If you are visiting this garden with small children, you may have to carry the child along some of the rougher terrains of the garden. Otherwise, many parts of the garden are alright if you plan to use a stroller.
Why You Should Visit This Garden, and How
Aside from the fact that it is less than a kilometer away from so many other popular sights in Nara, such as the Toda-ji temple, Nara Park, and Nigatsu-do Temple, it also gives you a glimpse into the culture and essence of Japanese culture. It also rates as the 2nd best garden to go to while you’re in Nara.
To get here – even if you’re as far as Tokyo – you can simply take a corresponding bus to this city, or purchase a JR pass.
If you want to visit another garden in Nara, try the Kasuga Taisha Sinen Manyo Botanical Garden, which is near the Kasuga Taisha shrine.
Hotels Near Isuien Garden
If you plan to travel to this area, you may want start booking a hotel in advance. Recommended hotels around this area are the following:
- Hotel New Wakasa – this hotel that follows a traditional motif goes for around 15,000 to 22,000 yen a night. It’s rated as 5 out of the 63 hotels that exist in Nara and is located in 1 Kitahanda Higashi-machi, Nara 630-8274, Nara Prefecture. Service here expresses Japanese hospitality very well, and the food is top-quality. It is recommended that you book a room that has a view. It is only 0.4 kilometers away from Isuien Garden.
- Wakasa Bettei – though it is less famous than Hotel New Wakasa, it still has the same star rating to compete. 24 reviewers gave this hotel 4.5 out of 5 stars. It is located in 1 Higashimachi Kitahanda, Nara 630-8274, Nara Prefecture. It resembles that of a Ryokan, though there were some complaints about how it does not adhere to the traditional Japanese style that other inns and hotels do. A night here costs about 19,600 yen. This hotel is also 0.4 kilometers away from Isuien Garden.
- Shikitei – ranked 18th out of the 63 hotels in Nara, Shikiei garnered a 4.5 out of 5 rating from 35 reviews on TripAdvisor. Like the other hotels/inns, this also follows the traditional Japanese setting. A night in this high-end inn costs nearly 35,000 yen. It offers a spa, air-conditioning, and a restaurant with delectable dishes. They don’t hold back welcoming the guests, as they perform gestures of hospitality, such as holding a small tea ceremony. Shikitei is found 0.5 kilometers away from Isuien Garden.
A Price Worth Paying
There are many reasons why this garden is classified as one of Japan’s beautiful gardens. For the few who may have thought that it is not worth the money paying 900 yen, then they will have missed the elegance, the tranquility, and the simplicity of the garden.
Take a break and sit on one of the benches overlooking the lake with its crystal-clear water and contemplate on the beauty of nature. You will find that sense of peace and happiness. The garden is well worth the entrance fee. This 350-year-old garden deserves a visit, and you must not go home from Nara until you have seen the majestic Isuien garden.